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In California, the law provides certain safeguards and protections for workers. One of those protections is the right to a “day of rest” during the workweek. When does that right exist? Is it applicable to all workers, or just some? Can or should a company force employees to take days off from work to satisfy this legal requirement? These are all important questions that the law, as it stood earlier this year, did not appear to answer. When one Nordstrom employee believed that the company had caused him to lose his day of rest he filed a lawsuit arguing they had violated this law. The lawsuit posed precisely these questions. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of California weighed in on the issue and provided clearer “day of rest” guidelines.

When is a Worker Entitled to a Day of Rest?

California Labor Code Section 551 states that “every person employed in any occupation of labor is entitled to one day’s rest therefrom in seven.” Understanding what, exactly, this means has proven to be difficult. Workers are clearly granted the right to a one day of rest in a period of seven days. However, do days of rest roll over from one week to another? Should employers use a workweek or rolling basis to calculate when a day of rest is appropriate? Are workers prohibited from working seven days in a row? In reviewing Mendoza v. Nordstrom, the Supreme Court of California clarified that a worker is entitled to a day of rest in each workweek.

Workers are not, however, always prohibited from working seven days in a row. The Court cited a Division of Labor Standards Enforcement hardship exemption to the day of rest provision. According to the Division of Labor, the right to a day of rest may not necessarily prevent an employee from working seven days in a row “when the nature of the employment reasonably requires” him to do so. However, that employee must have days of rest accumulated elsewhere in a work month to make up for any days he is forced to miss in a given workweek.

So, workers are entitled to one day of rest in each work week. If workers have a job that may require them to work more than seven days in a row, they are entitled to additional days of rest at another time in the work month.

Are All Employees Entitled to a Day of Rest?

No. California Labor Code Section 556 provides an exception to the right to a day of rest. It states that the day of rest “shall not apply…when the total hours of employment do not exceed 30 hours in any week or six hours in any one day thereof.” So…when does the right to a day of rest exist? The California Supreme Court clarified the statute to explain that if any time a worker exceeds 6 hours in one day during a workweek they earn the right to a day of rest during that week. Workers who never work a shift longer than six hours in a week will not be lawfully entitled to a day of rest.

Can Employers Stop Employees From Skipping a Day of Rest Voluntarily?

The lawsuit that prompted the California Supreme Court to clarify the Labor Code was based, in part, on the fact that the Nordstrom employee was asked to fill in for a co-worker. Working extra shifts caused him to work more than seven days in a row. He argued that Nordstrom asking him to work extra shifts caused him to forfeit his day of rest. California Labor Code Section 552 states that “no employer of labor shall cause his employees to work more than six days in seven.” Does asking an employee to work additional shifts cause them to forfeit the right to a day of rest?

The California Supreme Court responded to the issue by explaining that an employer is obligated to inform workers of their right to a day of rest, but not obligated to force an employee to use that day of rest. If an employer such as Nordstrom continually asked an employee to cover additional shifts it should be obligated to explain that the employee has the right to refuse extra shifts in order to enjoy a day of rest. However, an employer such as Nordstrom does not have to require its employees to miss a day of work to satisfy the mandates in the Labor Code. In other words, employees are free to make their own decisions about their work schedules and whether or not they exercise their right to a day of rest. Employees who voluntarily forfeit a day of rest, however, do not have the power to “roll over” that day of rest to a different work week.

In its decision, the Supreme Court of California clarified important employment issues. Workers are entitled to a day of rest in any week in which they work at least one shift exceeding six hours. Workers whose occupation may require working more than seven days in a row are entitled to additional days of rest at another point in a work month. Workers are, however, not required to use a day of rest and may build labor schedules to suit their personal needs.

 

If you believe that your employer has unlawfully forced you to miss a day of rest you should contact an experienced employment law attorney. When you call our office we will review your case, explain your rights as a worker, and present what we believe to be your best legal options.